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Sarah Lipton

Sarah Lipton

How to Stay Calm in the Face of Fear

tea pot

photo by Homer Horowitz

Tea with a T-Rex

T-Rex is roaming the earth again. Wreaking havoc, causing disruption, up-ending the status quo.

This time, it’s crowned in the form of COVID-19. A global pandemic. A local disaster.

From my vantage point, the greater harm is from the tidal wave of fear abrading each of us. Fear is stronger than the virus itself and the tsunami is razing our society.

Some of us are fortunate to live in small communities that are working hard to disseminate information, increase education, awareness and ultimately, prevention.

Some of us live in dense cities and have no choice but to don a mask and gloves and douse ourselves with detoxifying solutions.

Wherever we are, life has been disrupted. Schools are closing, jobs are being put on hold, grocery stores are emptying, the economy is flailing.

Here’s what I see in the wake of the seismic wave of fear: the disastrous detritus of panic.

T-Rex is not new. He’s been around for eons longer than we have, and our very evolution has been determined by our capacity for resilience. Just ask my cousin Bruce Lipton about the study of epigenetics.

Now is not the time to forget how to work with our minds.

Now is not the time to give into the subtle seduction and comfort of familiar fear. Now is not the time to throw your hands into the air, helplessly hoping for someone else to come along and pick up the pieces.

Life is messy. It’s always throwing us curve-balls. Things are rarely “in our control.”

It’s not about how we try to manage the mess, but rather, how we work with our mind in the midst of the mess.

COVID-19, coronavirus, it’s real, I know. I have friends all across the globe. I have family members who are panicking. But like any other tidal wave, we can’t run from it, and we certainly can’t hide.

We can, however, prepare. We can connect with our communities and make sure people with extra needs are being taken care of. We can ensure that we are being careful with our actions and protecting ourselves as much possible. We can do all of the state-recommended things. But the primary thing we absolutely MUST do? That’s not being shouted from media’s loudspeakers.

No, our society has a deeply devilish pact with fear. And the economy swings on those ramifications.

What’s missing?!

Is it a pivot to recklessness and carelessness? No, don’t be ridiculous.

Is it a pirouette in the direction of over-education? No, that only helps the highly-trained scientists.

Can you feel the heat of the fear rising in your chest? The rise of anxiety? The prickly sweat of stress? Can you feel it? Focus. Feel!


Yes, that’s right, the breath is what’s missing.

Ahhhhh. Inhale…exhale…breathing in, you calm your body. Breathing out, you release the tension and stress.

The breath will literally help you stay healthy.

I know, you are afraid to breathe, TV told you that breathing would expose you to the dreaded disease.

So, find a safe space and breathe. Because let’s face it, if you don’t, you are going to keel over well before the virus arrives on your doorstep.

The breath is happening anyway. The breath not only brings needed oxygen to the blood, but the act of breathing is a neurological gift that slows the speed of the heart and allows the vagal nerve to reconnect from the frontal lobe to the gut, calming down the mind.

Buddhist practitioners have known this for over 2500 years. It’s not news or “new-agey” to say that the breath can help ease the frigid fright of a pandemic.

How we show up to our every moment will determine how we experience each of those moments.

Our current society has most things backwards:

• The glossy appearance you put out to the world doesn’t have anything to do with how you feel.

• Rushing to purchase prophylactics to prevent disease is more important than staying clean.

• Hiding yourself from any risk will make you happier.

These assumptions are just wrong, wrong, wrong. You feel me?

So, please, give YOURSELF and everyone you know the gifts of the reverse:

• Connect with how you feel and celebrate that you are alive.

• Take care of yourself the way your preschool teachers, mothers and aunties taught you to and you won’t need the gallons of bleach.

• Reach out to connect with your friends, neighbors and community members. See if someone needs help. Ask how people are doing and mean it. Listen, and share.

You are the only one that can decide for yourself to become familiar with your fear.

When you make that provocatively different decision, you are giving yourself the gift of emancipation and empowerment. Nobody else can free you from the chains that bind, when it comes to fear. That’s an agreement you have to make for yourself.

Here’s how I do it:

First, I tune into my breath.

Feeling the breath, I come home to the sensations of my body. I close my eyes and listen to the sensations of my body, tuning into the various layers of feeling. I notice a particularly warm sensation in my chest, and as I rest with it, I notice that it expands. Suddenly a word arises: this is anxiety, otherwise named Fear.

As soon as the word arises, I have a choice. I can get stuck there and freak out. Or, I can open even further to the sensation.

The breath is the key, the breath is the hand extended in greeting: “Welcome,” I say to Fear. “I see you,” I say.

Having now extended this warm, genuine greeting to Fear, we can have a conversation. I make a pot of tea and pour two mugs.

I invite Fear to sit with me and sip a cup of tea.

“Why have you come to rest in my heart?” I politely ask Fear.

“You need me. I am your protection. You can’t live without me,” Fear tries to assert. But I can hear an undulation of wavering doubt. Fear is saying these things to me because that is it’s job to say these things to me. Fear is asking me for permission.

“I hear you, Fear. I hear that you think I need you to protect me,” I kindly say to Fear, as if it were my five-year-old.

“I have something I want to say to you, now,” I say to Fear. “I appreciate your presence here with me. You teach me so much. You have taught me to be careful while walking an icy precipice with no guardrail. You have guided my hand while teaching my young daughters to cut veggies with a sharp knife. But, and I say this kindly, I do not need your protection from COVID-19.”

“But,” splutters Fear, “I don’t want you to get sick! I want you to stay home, wash everything three times and never touch your face again!”

“I know, and I hear you, I really do,” I say, still calm. “And I will remember to take care of myself, I promise you. But I need you to take a back-seat for me this time. I can’t live into the fullness of my days with you lingering protectively over my every action.”

“So, you don’t mind if I watch from the sidelines?” asks Fear.

“No, please stay near. Let me know when I slip up. But please, for now, ride out with my breath and stay at the tree-line. I have a lot of work to do over here in this busy field, and I have a lot of people to teach,” I say.

“In fact,” I continue, “will you do me a big favor and agree to come back when I ask you so that you can be my co-teacher?”

Fear is flattered, I can feel the blush of recognition rising in Fear’s cheeks. “Sure, I guess so! Nobody has ever asked me that before. Sure, I’ll hang out over here at the edges and you know I’ll be ready to come back and help out whenever you need me to!”

“Thank you, dear Fear. Really, thank you. I so appreciate your good listening, and I am very much looking forward to teaching with you, when the time is right.”

And that, dear friends, is how you make friends with fear.

So, go find a mask if that’s what you need. Put on your grandmother’s kid gloves. But I dare you to also sit down for a few precious moments and have your own conversation with Fear. You may be shocked, in the best possible way, to find out what you discover.

Obviously, be safe. Take care. But above all, remember to breathe. It’s seriously the best possible gift you can give to yourself at this raucous time of rampaging dis-ease.

In fact, I dare you to make time for tea with your own personal T-Rex.

To join the conversation with me, check out my community at GENUINE.

While you are there, check out my workshop: Leaning into Fear...timely, don't you think?